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    Egypt orders crackdown after weekend’s turmoil

    Curfew, state of emergency for Suez Canal area

    A protester tried to stop Egyptian riot police from firing tear gas Sunday near a bridge leading to Tahrir Square in Cairo.
    Amr Abdallah Dalsh /REUTERS
    A protester tried to stop Egyptian riot police from firing tear gas Sunday near a bridge leading to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

    CAIRO — President Mohammed Morsi declared a state of emergency and curfew on Sunday in three Suez Canal provinces hit hardest by a weekend wave of unrest that left more than 50 people dead.

    Adopting tactics used by of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, Morsi vowed to end the violent protests over his Islamist policies and the slow pace of change.

    Angry and almost screaming, Morsi said in a televised address Sunday night that he would not hesitate to take even more action to stem the latest eruption of violence across much of the country. But at the same time, he sought to reassure Egyptians that his latest moves would not plunge the country back into authoritarianism.


    ‘‘There is no going back on freedom, democracy, and the supremacy of the law,’’ he said.

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    The worst violence this weekend was in the Mediterranean coastal city of Port Said, where seven people were killed on Sunday, pushing the toll for two days of clashes to at least 44.

    The unrest was sparked on Saturday by a court conviction and death sentence for 21 defendants involved in a mass soccer riot in the city’s main stadium on Feb. 1, 2012 that left 74 dead.

    Most of those sentenced to death were local soccer fans from Port Said, deepening a sense of persecution that Port Said’s residents have felt since the stadium disaster, the worst soccer violence ever in Egypt.

    At least another 11 died on Friday elsewhere in the country during rallies marking the second anniversary of the anti-Mubarak uprising. Protesters used the occasion to renounce Morsi and his Islamic fundamentalist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged as the country’s most dominant political force after Mubarak’s ouster.


    The curfew and state of emergency, both in force for 30 days, affect the provinces of Port Said, Ismailiya, and Suez. The curfew takes effect Monday from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day.

    Before Morsi’s announcement, a prominent Islamist leader delivered a thinly veiled warning Sunday that Islamist groups would set up militia-like vigilante groups to protect public and state property against attacks.

    Speaking at a news conference, Tareq el-Zomr of the once-jihadist Gamaa Islamiya, said: ‘‘If security forces don’t achieve security, it will be the right of the Egyptian people and we at the forefront to set up popular committees to protect private and public property and counter the aggression on innocent citizens.’’

    The threat by Zomr was accompanied by his charge that the mostly secular and liberal opposition was responsible for the deadly violence of the past few days, setting the stage for possible bloody clashes between protesters and Islamist militiamen. The opposition denies the charge.

    In his address Sunday night, Morsi also invited the nation’s political forces to a dialogue starting Monday to resolve the country’s latest crisis. A statement issued later by his office said that among those invited were the country’s top reform leader, Nobel peace Laureate Mohammed ElBaradei; former Arab League chief Amr Moussa; and Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist politician who finished third in last year’s presidential race.


    The three are leaders of the National Salvation Front, an umbrella for the main opposition parties.

    Khaled Dawoud, the group’s spokesman, said Morsi’s invitation was meaningless unless he clearly states what is on the agenda. That, he added, must include amending a disputed constitution hurriedly drafted by the president’s Islamist allies and rejected by the opposition.

    He also faulted the president for not acknowledging his political responsibility for the latest bout of political violence. ‘‘It is all too little too late,’’ he said.

    In many ways, Morsi’s decree and his call for a dialogue betrayed his despair in the face of wave after wave of political unrest, violence, and man-made disasters that, at times, made the country look like it was about to come unglued.

    Morsi, who has been in office since June, was a relative unknown until his Muslim Brotherhood nominated him to run for president last year.

    He is widely criticized for having offered no vision for the country’s future after nearly 30 years of dictatorship under Mubarak and no coherent policy to tackle seemingly endless problems, from a free-falling economy and deeply entrenched social injustices to surging crime and chaos on the streets.

    Morsi did not say what he plans to do to stem the violence in other parts of the country outside those three provinces, but he did say he had instructed the police to deal ‘‘firmly and forcefully’’ with individuals attacking state institutions, using firearms to ‘‘terrorize’’ citizens or blocking roads and railway lines.

    There were also clashes Sunday in Cairo and several cities in the Nile Delta region, including the industrial city of Mahallah.